Armed with a new album, Hold My Home, Cold War Kids are making their way to Southbound on Saturday-Sunday, January 3-4, at Sir Stewart Bovell Park, Busselton. KEATS MULLIGAN reports.
In the decade since their formation, Cold War Kids have come a long way.
Their first album saw quite a lot of success, even though it contrasted so heavily with the popular sound of the time. While sonically it seemed unusually buoyant, lyrically it was a rather probing examination of some of the darker elements of humanity. From alcoholism to incarceration to vehicular manslaughter and theft, each song from their 2006 debut, Robbers And Cowards, felt like an apathetic account of a life in disrepair. It was a single dark entity floating in a sea of pastel-coloured, new wave-inspired electro-pop music.
The release of their latest album, Hold My Home, marks a shift in songwriting for the group. It’s something of a deliberate regression; an attempt to get back to basics and reconnect with the ideas and attitudes that culminated in their early releases. Rather than persevering with the extensive and laborious process of writing and recording an album as a successful band in this day and age, they’ve opted to take to songwriting as they would’ve earlier on in their careers.
It’s rather hard to imagine. History’s littered with instances of these unique musical undertakings. Sounds that spring up in environments that most would think are too hostile for them to possibly flourish in. Musical lineage is ordinarily traceable. A sound is spawned from one genre, and informed by another. Sonic elements are exchanged and fused in a suitable setting. So it’s strange when you consider the insular world that Cold War Kids was born in.
“We just had this big group of mutual friends in the LA area that were a bunch of artists or musicians. It was a big old group. It was good actually, because it meant you had about a hundred people that would come to your shows,” vocalist and pianist Nathan Willett recalls from his home in the US.
“I don’t know if the scene was thriving, because it was the only scene I’ve ever really been a part of. We weren’t in LA proper, we were kinda in the Long Beach area, so it felt like we were maybe a little left of centre,” he says. “We didn’t feel like we were trying to be aware of anything in any mainstream kind of way. We just kinda had labels and booking agents come in a really organic way, which in hindsight is pretty shocking, but at the time that was just the way it happened, and looking back, I think we were insanely lucky.”
Artists that make such a formidable mark on the musical landscape with their debut release are destined to always be remembered for that initial impact. When such a bold impression is made, finding a way to further yourself and maintain your audience’s interest is a task perhaps harder than making breaking through in the first place.
“The first record, as so often is the case with bands, is filled with songs that you’ve been playing live for a long time, for two years or so before you ever get a chance to record them,” says Willett. “So when you do go to record them, you record them quickly and it’s fun. Then beyond that, you start to learn how to make better use of your time in the studio.”
Still, with growth comes growing pains, and while their inception into the world of popular music might have been organic, their development, at least at times, has been considered and purposeful.
“It’s funny. You get to a point where you think, ‘Do we make changes?’, and if we do are they forced? Or false? Or do we just get in there and start writing the songs we write and not think too hard about it?” he contemplates. “We knew who we were pretty early on, so you think, ‘How do we keep the sound this group and continue to write songs and also expand and play with the space that we’ve got?’”
There are plenty of us that sit on the outside looking in, envious of the opportunities afforded to successful musicians without considering the responsibility that goes with it, but there are inevitable and unavoidable difficulties that come with trying to turn your passion into a professional pursuit.
“From the very first record, and none of us would have anticipated this, but it has been a full-time job,” says Willett. “Art is a strange thing, in that you want to be able to do it for a living, but you don’t want to be able to be thinking about it professionally, you don’t want to think about making money. It’s not like real estate where the goal is to make the most money.”
So with some 10 years experience in performing his balancing act, growing and developing their sound, Hold My Home has seen the group come full circle, blending the attitude that spawned their debut album with the benefits they’ve garnered from their previous successes to put together an album that attempts to build a unique, contemporary sound on a foundation of traditional instrumentation.
“Inevitably, the record is going to be compared to the first one because it is probably the most direct and to the point record in many ways,” he reflects. “The last record (Dear Miss Lonelyhearts) only really came out a year-and-a-half ago or so, and we wanted to get this one out quickly and embrace all the advantages of having our own studio. I think it’s part of the modern age of being in a band.
“You don’t wait around in between records, because with the technology available you don’t need labour of it in the way that you might have had to in the past. So there’s an immediacy, lyrically and musically, that’s the way we approached it, we didn’t want it to sound or feel laboured over.”
Cold War Kids play Southbound on Saturday-Sunday, January 3-4, at Sir Stewart Bovell Park, Busselton. Get your tickets here: